Welcome to the Science of Sport, where we bring you the second, third, and fourth level of analysis you will not find anywhere else.

Be it doping in sport, hot topics like Caster Semenya or Oscar Pistorius, or the dehydration myth, we try to translate the science behind sports and sports performance.

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Monday, April 28, 2008

Birthday wishes from The Science of Sport

One year and counting - Thank you everyone

It was a year ago, to the day, that The Science of Sport was born. Our very first post was a preview and analysis of the Cricket World Cup Final. That post was read by perhaps 10 people - Jonathan and I, his family, mine, and some friends! 256 posts later, and we've reached the ripe old age of one!

In our early days, our regular readership consisted of the two of us, and Jonathan's wife, Lara! We're relieved, flattered and enormously grateful to be able to say that this post will definitely be read by more than 10 people! And so we'd like to express a huge, heartfelt thank you to all of your for your support, comments, questions, criticisms and compliments over the last 365 days. Every single email we receive, whether it be a comment, question or argument, vindicates our vision and mission for this site, and while the journey is young (our first milestone today!), we've been enormously priviledged to have benefitted from your partnership!

Going back just over a year, the two of us were sitting in our offices on opposite ends of the earth (Jonathan in Chicago, Ross in Cape), pondering our futures, opportunities and ambitions. Many of those thoughts are still unanswered, but we were certain that we had a passion for sports and science, and for disseminating that information to a wider audience. On top of this, we both recognized a lack of "real" sports science in the news. So we set out to create a site that:

  • Translated and applied sports science in a real, tangible way
  • Provided a second, third and fourth level of insight into sports news and events. Our vision was always to provide the WHY? HOW? WHEN? answers to people's questions on sports topics
Since then it has morphed and grown into what you see today. Our aim from the start was always to focus on "newsy" sports stories, and to use those stories as a platform to explain the science behind them. The long term aim is to become the #1 resource on the web for sports science, and in this first year you have helped us work towards that goal.

A birthday wish list - Science of Sport style!

Now, since we won't be receiving any gifts on our first birthday, (and being the cynics we are), we thought that we would take a somewhat light-hearted look back on the first year of our "lives", while at the same time coming up with a wish list for the world of sports for the future. So on behalf of The Science of Sport, here's a look back, and a look forward, at what we'd like to give the sports world for our birthday!:

1) For Caucasians everywhere: A gold medal in Beijing for a non-African middle or long-distance runner

Africa's dominance in the middle- and long-distance events is well-known. We've done a great deal of analysis on Marathon and World Championship performances, and invariably, we end up talking about Africans. If it's not Kenyans, it's Ethiopians, and Eritreans, and Ugandans, and perhaps the odd Moroccan!

But hope is on the horizon - Ryan Hall of the USA broke 2:07 in London, finished 4th, and has the speed credentials over the half-marathon to challenge the Africans. Then there is Australia's Craig Mottram, the great hope on the track. Will they win medals in Beijing? Stranger things have happened...but our money says that every gold medal from 800m up is taken by Africans, with perhaps one medal going to an athlete from the Far East. Maybe next year's birthday wish list will provide more joy for the non-Africans!

2) For Haile Gebrselassie: A gas mask and nebulizer so he can run the Olympic marathon

Gebrselassie made headlines earlier this year when he announced that he would NOT run the Olympic Marathon out of fears for his health and the effects of Beijing's much vaunted pollution. We covered that as it broke, and were sceptical of his reasons. Turns out there was more to it - Geb has visions of a world record attempt in Berlin in October, too soon after the Olympics to run both.

So we realise that our gas mask and nebulizer gift may well find its way into Gebrselassie's trash can, but it's worth a shot, just for the hope of seeing Gebrselassie racing against Lel, Cheruiyot and Wanjiru for Olympic Gold! It is our birthday, after all...we can but dream!

3) For all Major League Baseball players: "One-free Failed Steroid Test" from commissioner Bug Selig

US-sports have not received too much attention from us in the past year (we hope to change this in the future!). We did cover the Patriots failed attempts to claim the perfect season in winning the NFL title, but for the most part, our focus on US-sports was limited to the inevitable drug problems that so affect all sports.

2007 was the year that saw Barry Bonds break the all-time home run record - Bonds is the poster boy for US baseball's drug problems. Currenly under investigation for perjury during Grand Jury appearances in connection with the BALCO affair, his record stands as a beacon to the problems affecting the sport. If this was not enough, it was followed up by the Mitchell report, which implicated Roger Clemens, an all-time great pitcher, and many other big names.

So for 2008, and our second year, we'll donate amnesty from testing to baseball players...What's that? They already get off after positive tests? Oh, that explains it then!

4) For LeBron James: An NBA title

LeBron Who? is probably the question you're asking if you're anywhere outside the USA. LeBron James, that's who. This is a rather self-indulgent birthday wish, because we must admit being partial to James, who is one of the brightest stars in the US-professional basketball league, the NBA.

The NBA is home to some absolutely incredible athletes - Bryant, Garnett, Iverson. But LeBron James stands out as a giant among giants. To put into perspective for our non-USA readers: LeBron James is 2.03m tall (6-8), weighs 113kg (250 lbs), and he moves like a ballerina combined with an artistic gymnast. If you follow rugby, think Martin Johnson, Bakkies Botha, or Jerry Collins, leaping meters of the ground, spinning in mid air, meeting a pass with one hand and slamming over another athlete, also 2m tall. Then doing it over and over for 40 minutes a game. James is spectacular, and while I freely admit to being a fan, I also marvel that the physiology that allows a man so big to move so freely and easily - coming from a country where big men play rugby, to see this athleticism is remarkable. For that pleasure, here's to an NBA title, however unlikely!

5) For the Olympic Torch: A safe and peaceful journey for the remainder of its journey to Beijing

The Olympic torch has always been a symbol of peace, unity and togetherness, uniting the world ahead of the great showpiece. However, Beijing 2008's torch has been more of a flame to attract controversy. Protests, protests and more protests have forced changes to the route, talk of cancelling certain visits, and dire predictions for what will eventually happen once the world reaches Beijing in August. It's a volatile situation, with the potential to blow up. We really hope that it doesn't affect the competition and the spectacle of the Games.

6) For Oscar Pistorius: A set of prosthetic limbs that do not provide a 30% advantage over able-bodied runners

If there is one story that epitomizes our vision and mission, it's the story of Oscar Pistorius. This story, about the SA amputee's desire to run in the able-bodied Olympics, began almost exactly a year ago, co-inciding with our own "birth". And from the outset, it was clear that it was a story about sports science vs. human emotion and interest. The news reports were so far off track, so inaccurate and incomplete, that it was a story begging to be analysed in more detail. Every paper, website, TV show, and news article was portraying the story as a case of discrimination against Pistorius, and not one was objectively discussing the scientific facts and implications of why he actually has a large advantage.

We saw it differently, and put forward all the reasons why Pistorius has an enormous advantage. The IAAF, after a few false starts and weak arguments, eventually pulled in a world-leading expert and found massive advantages - 30% in some cases. Based on that result, Pistorius was banned. But he was not done there - he promptly produced his own testing, which is, in his words "very different" from that done by the IAAF. Quite how he managed to overturn a 30% advantage is beyond us. We wait with baited breath for the ruling from the CAS, which is due in the next few weeks. Hopefully justice will prevail and the ban will stand, on sports science grounds.

In the meantime, how about a birthday wish of a pair of carbon-fibre blades especially designed not to give that 30% mechanical advantage. That's what many people were calling for after the IAAF testing. The only problem with that is that given a pair of legs that does not provide an advantage, Pistorius suddenly goes from being a 46 second 400m runner to a 54 second runner (take your pick of how many seconds he slows down - maybe 50, maybe more). And suddenly the problem doesn't exist any more!

7) For Arena: A voucher for some NASA testing on its swimsuit

The last four weeks have seen the "swimsuit wars" played out in the media. 35 world records broken wearing one type of swimsuit - the Speedo LZR Racer! Only 2 records this year have NOT been set in the space-age suit, which was designed in collaboration with scientists in the UK, Australia, New Zealand, and NASA. NASA, for their part, tested the fabrics used in the suit, and helped developed a material that was completely drag-free. Arena, Speedo's main rival in the Olympic pool this year, was the big loser, first citing "illegal" technology and then scrambling to bring out their own version of the LZR. Meanwhile, swimmers who are NOT sponsored by Speedo are either talking up a a big game about how the suit doesn't help that much, after all. Or, they're desperately finding out how they too are going to be squeezing into the Speedo come the Olympic Games.

So for Arena, we wish for a voucher to have some NASA testing of their own, in the hope that at least we get to see a fair competition in the pool in Beijing!

8) For the world of cycling: the truth about Lance Armstrong


Yeah, right! There'a about as much chance of this happening as there is of Dick Pound offering an apology to Armstrong for his pursuit of him in the last 3 or 4 years! During Pound's now finished tenure as head of WADA, he became the self-appointed Sheriff at large, doing his best to prove that Armstrong was using drugs. In truth, he had a lot of help - journalists, authors, fellow team-mates, former mechanics, former massage therapist, all queued up to build up a mass of "evidence" against Armstrong. Pound is now gone, Armstrong remains defiant, and everyone still wonders - greatest comeback of all time, or greatest con-job of all time? That last question paraphrases one Greg LeMond, who may soon be embroiled in legal proceedings against Trek, which will involve Armstrong. This story is unlikely to be going anywhere - maybe by our second birthday, there'll be more to it.

9) A drug-free Tour de France

If you thought wish number 8 was far-fetched, try this one for size! The Tour de France rolls around every year, with renewed hope of a clean race, and every year, the problem seems to get worse and worse. Last year, the race leader, Michael Rasmussen, was booted out of the race by his team for failing to declare his whereabouts during the period leading up to the race. Another big name, Alexander Vinokourov, was also expelled from the race after a positive test, and the world of cycling shook again. 2008 promises much, but realistically, it's unlikely to escape without controversy. Cycling has a doping culture, and it'll take more than a few threats and tests to eradicate the doping scourge. Perhaps, with the burden now being taken up by the sponsors, who are pulling their money out at an alarming rate, the sport will be dragged, kicking and screaming, into a new era. We're sceptical, but time will tell.

10) For Abderrahim Goumri: A world without Martin Lel!

Goumri may well be the best marathon runner in the world today...except for Martin Lel. Goumri made his debut in London in 2007, and was outkicked in the final 300m by Lel, claiming a great second in his first race. Jump ahead to November, and Lel and Goumri hit the final 400m of the New York Marathon deadlocked, again. Yet again, however, Lel destroys Goumri, this time putting 9 seconds between him and the Moroccan in the final 400m, thanks to a 61 second final 400m.

2008 - a new year, different luck for Goumri? Not quite, because this year, back on the streets of London, Goumri finds himself once again locked with Martin Lel going into the final kilometer of a major marathon. This time, however, there's also Sammy Wanjiru, and both beat Goumri, with Lel confirming his incredible form and fast finish to win his third marathon in three starts. Goumri has three podiums, with no wins, and must be hating the site of Martin Lel's back! Here's to a race without Lel, and first win for the Moroccan!

Looking ahead- year two

So that's our list, tongue firmly in cheek. Apologies for the rather "self-indulgent" post, by the way, but hey, you only turn 1 once! There is some truth in our list, though - we really do hope for a drug free Tour, a non-controversial Olympic Games, and yes, we'd love to know the truth from Lance Armstrong!

In all seriousness, we really do want to thank all of our supporters who have logged on, visited or subscribed during our first year. It has been such a pleasure writing the blog. And as mentioned, every single criticism, comment and debate we receive is the reason we write to begin with. The one consquence of growth is that we cannot respond to every single comment. So we will apologize upfront for our failure to always respond - sometimes we just cannot.

Looking ahead to year number 2, we plan more of the same. There's certainly no shortage of stories, and to think, we haven't even covered triathlon yet! But we'll also aim to bring more series, and scientific reviews, including discussions on fatigue and the brain.

And then, before we know it the 2008 Olympic games will be upon us, and you can expect a full set of previews as they approach. This will include event previews as well as posts on how the environmental conditions will affect the performances. You can expect a series on heat acclimatization and environmental physiology, and plenty of performance analysis and predictions.

Thanks again, and we hope you keep coming back for more in our second year!

Ross and Jonathan

14 Comments:

Jeffrey said...

Best wishes for the next year, and don't fall prey to blog overdrive. We all want you to stay around for a long time.

My running economy thanks you!

runatthemouth said...

Hey, congratulations on your first year!

I thought I'd take this opportunity to say how much I enjoy your blog. I'm a doc student in Parks and Recreation. As a runner and an academic, I love being able to combine the nerdy aspects of both of those when I read your blog. I feel like it represents a kind of academic writing that we should do more more often.

Thanks!

Vanilla said...

Happy Birthday guys! I don't comment a whole lot, but I ALWAYS read. Looking forward to another year.

ohionative said...

Happy Birthday guys! Great to have such a comprehensive site to read about sports science. Keep up the writing, looking forward to the coming years.

Stan Silvert said...

Thanks for the great year. Can't wait for the next.

Stan

Danny said...

First off, Happy Birthday! I really like this blog and read it daily.


Second, it isn't well know but Lebron is actually 6'10'' 265 (or so on the weight). I heard it on ESPN a while ago, and I work for Nike and asked someone about that also. If I can track down a source I'll let you know. Only reason why I mention it is because it make his agility that much more impressive, the guy could be a center!

Again, Happy 1 year.

Loaring said...

Outstanding blog. Happy Birthday and thanks for sharing your wealth of insight and knowledge. I look forward to year two of The Science of Sport...

Michael Wu said...

Congratulations on the birthday! Since I've found the blog, I've been satisfying the nerd and the sportsman in me in one shot! (which would explain why I'm currently studying kinesiology)
Now my quick comment: What about Gary Reed of Canada? Almost won the 800m in Osaka.

Anonymous said...

Only found your blog a short while ago, but I think I have read all the back issues now. Congratulations on your first year, keep covering the stories that others ignore. Don't get dragged into the main stream!

Anonymous said...

Happy birthday!

Ross and Jonathan your blog is an oasis of science and facts amidst the desert of speculative and sensationalist reporting. Thank you for helping us understand the science behind sports. Personally my passion for sports is equal to the love of sports science and if I was given the opportunity to start my career all over I am certain that I would choose to study in your field.

I wish you all the best
George

Ross Tucker and Jonathan Dugas said...

Hello everyone

Thank you very much for the compliments and the wishes, it's fantastic to receive your support!

To respond to a few specifics:

Don't worry, we don't plan on falling prey to any kind of overdrive or burnout - there is so much still to be said. And we're working towards getting some partnerships off the ground which should, in theory, free up a little more time for writing and working on that content.

Then to Danny, thanks for the information on LeBron James - I got those figures off the NBA website, and I automatically assumed they were correct. I did wonder, I must admit, about the height in particular, because he does look bigger than 6-8. The weight is unbelievable - if he's really 121kg (265lbs), then his movement is truly astonishing, I would have to say I'm even more convinced that he's the best athlete around at the moment. Thanks for that information!

And then to Michael - yes, Gary Reed is definitely a chance of a medal, even a gold. Unfortunately for all those 800m guys, they are in the most open, competitive field in the sport right now. Any one of about 12 guys could win the race on the day. That makes it the hardest to pick, by a long way! ANd the most exciting, because there's no "boss", but there are probably 6 guys capable of sub 1:44, and another 6 who can finish fast off a slow first lap. I'd hate to bet on anyone, but we'll know coming into the Games, based on European form.

And then don't worry, we don't plan on being mainstream any time soon - we're very definitely about running, cycling, swimming and the Olympic Games. That doesn't mean we won't occasionally dabble in the big team sports, but rest assured, we're not changing our strategy any time.

Thanks again, and keep reading!
Ross

jorge pereyra from Uruguay said...

Happy Birthday and thanks for this amount of knowledge!!

Viper said...

Happy Birthday! From a longtime reader, first-time commenter.

I second No. 4. As for LeBron's height and weight, he claims he is 6 feet, 9 inches and about 260 pounds. He's mentioned it a few times to the local press, such as theCanton (Ohio) Repository.

Keep up the good work.

simon said...

Good going, Ross!

Best wishes from Boulder on yer birthday.